Being Out, Ole Style:
The GLBT Experience at St. Olaf College
Beth Youngblood and co-author
Ethnographic Research Methods 373
· Like any liberal arts school, St. Olaf
College has a substantial population of GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender) students and faculty.
· This population is integrated among the
· Because they live and work in the same
environment as the heterosexual population, it is easy to assume that
the GLBT community experiences life no differently except when it comes
to sex and dating.
· GLBT students and faculty experience the
college environment very differently due to the unique necessity of
having to identify one’s sexuality, discrimination and harassment, and
unconventional dating needs.
· These different experiences cause need for
different resources and support options than those that are available
to the heterosexual population.
· We advertised for interviewees using posters
· We developed an interview script and
received approval from the IRB.
· Sixteen 30-45 minute interviews were
· Interview dialogue was transcribed and
· In general, GLBT students are not as
comfortable at St. Olaf as they could be.
· Some reported difficult “coming-out”
experiences, both originally and at college.
· Some discussed negative experiences at St.
Olaf such as harassment and anti-gay remarks.
· All interviewees acknowledged a very
supportive and respectful faculty.
· The GLBT dating scene at St. Olaf is
unhealthy but not unlike the heterosexual situation.
· Interviewees made many insightful and varied
suggestions for how St. Olaf could better administer to this population.
· The environment at St. Olaf College is not
ideal for GLBT students.
· Support networks and resources exist for
this population, but they are not adequate.
· Changes need to happen at all levels; from
administrative, to academic, to the individual perceptions of the
The GLBT Experience at St. Olaf College
This study sought to gain perspectives from different members of the
GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) community at St. Olaf
College on what life is like for this population. Fourteen students and
one professor were contacted after self-identification, and interviewed
using a standard script. The interviewees were asked questions about
themselves and their sexuality, their perceptions of the GLBT community
at St. Olaf, and whether or not St. Olaf is doing all it can for this
community. Results were extremely varied and ranged from those whose
sexuality affected their lives greatly and felt St. Olaf was falling
short in resources and support, to those who had never really thought
about this issue and had little knowledge of the challenges facing the
larger community. The general consensus was, however, that there are a
few things St. Olaf could do better, such as more opportunities for
academic acknowledgement of this group, and more staff positions
dedicated to addressing the issues facing the GLBT population.
Sexuality is not often addressed openly at a small,
religious school like St. Olaf College. However, like anywhere else, a
significant GLBT population exists. Gay men range from masquerading as
completely straight to being extremely effeminate. Lesbians are harder
to spot, but also cover the full spectrum in regards to identifying
with their biological gender. GLBT students are distributed throughout
all areas of the college and are not often separated from their
heterosexual peers. Self-identified GLBT students are especially
concentrated in the fine arts portion of the college, whereas more GLBT
students in the sciences and on athletic teams are “in the
closet”—either reluctant or afraid to come out. These patterns and
spectrum of difference is commonly found in any setting with a GLBT
What is the experience of GLBT students at St. Olaf College? This study
looked at the psychological implications, social aspects, identity
issues, dating scene, and level of acceptance and security members of
the GLBT community feel on campus. How different are the lives of men
from those of women in this community? We aimed to assess the
challenges GLBT students face on a daily basis and whether or not St.
Olaf College is doing all it can to eliminate these difficulties.
Queer theory is a set of ideas based around the idea that identities
are not fixed and do not determine who we are. It suggests that it is
meaningless to talk in general about 'women' or any other group, as
identities consist of so many elements that to assume that people can
be seen collectively on the basis of one shared characteristic is
wrong. Indeed, it proposes that we deliberately challenge all notions
of fixed identity, in varied and non-predictable ways
The use of Queer theory in
our research seems self-evident, and at a place like St. Olaf it is
especially pertinent. Undergraduate college campuses are a place of
searching for one’s personal identity and developing the ability for
social functioning. Given the religiosity and sexually conservative
nature of St. Olaf, students questioning their sexuality may welcome
the assertion that seeing people “on the basis of one shared
characteristic is wrong.”
Another helpful viewpoint to draw on is the work of Erving Goffman and
his ideas on stigma. Goffman, a theorist from the school of Symbolic
Interactionism, focused his thoughts on interactions between
individuals and the symbols used to understand those communications.
Stigmatization happens to anyone for whom there is “a gap between what
a person ought to be, virtual social identity, and what a person
actually is, actual social identity.” (Ritzer, p. 361) Stigmatization
is a buzzword with any minority group, including the GLBT population.
Students who do not feel comfortable presenting their full selves to
the general public may present a false identity, therefore causing that
gap and resulting in stigmatization.
To begin our research, we first looked at studies conducted on other
campuses. For example, in 1989 a researcher named Reynolds took a
sample of matched pairs of 32 gay or bisexual male students and 32
heterosexual students and administered a questionnaire to “explore
differences in perception of university climate between gay and
heterosexual male students” (as quoted in Wall/Evans, 33-36). Reynolds
found that gay students felt less safe, supported, or comfortable on
campus. In 1993 Herek found, from a questionnaire with 166 lesbian,
gay, and bisexual respondents, that the vast majority of these students
had been victims of discrimination, harassment, or intimidation because
of their sexual orientation.
Books that we found pertaining to GLBT communities on college campuses
were very useful. Kim Howard and Annie Stevens published in 2000 a book
of personal accounts by GLBT college students for which they asked
questions very similar to the questions addressed in our study (Howard
and Stevens, 2000). Nancy Evans and Vernon Wall have two books
published as handbooks for college faculty and administration on how to
handle GLBT issues (Evans and Vernon, 1991, 2000). Ronni Sanlo
published a similar, even more exhaustive handbook in 1998 (Sanlo,
1998). Ellen Lewin and William Leap’s book Out in Theory is a
discussion of the emergence of lesbian and gay anthropology and helped
us develop our plan of action for this particular ethnography.
According to Ronni Sanlo in Working With Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
Transgender College Students: A Handbook for Faculty and
Administrators, the following are some of the many categories that
pertain to GLBT issues on a college campus. A campus must evaluate
every area of its functioning and ask whether its doing all it can for
GLBT issues. The following categories pertain especially to St. Olaf
Residence Life—Residence halls are meant to be a “home away from home”
and a way for students to “learn social values and norms of interaction
while enhancing their academic achievement.” (Sanlo, p. 57)
Same-sex-only building arrangements (versus co-ed living) can cause
tension between a GLBT student and his/her roommate(s). Also, the role
of residence staff and the issues they choose to address in orientation
can affect the comfort of GLBT students.
Library Collections—The academic resources of a school say a lot about
its level of tolerance and acceptance.
Academic Advising—All students need career advising pertinent to their
lifestyle, including the GLBT population.
Health Services—Homosexuality must be discussed as much as
heterosexuality in brochures, presentations, and other information made
available by the health center. Health issues unique to the homosexual
lifestyle must not be ignored or marginalized but addressed even more
openly to foster comfortable discourse on the topic.
Athletics—Often GLBT student athletes feel particularly marginalized by
their team members and coaches.
Curriculum—Does a course encourage the broaching of GLBT issues within
class discussion, and are classroom environments such that this feels
comfortable for anyone?
Course Offerings—Beyond being discussed in any course, are their
special classes dedicated to (for example) GLBT history and
contemporary issues, sexuality, and policy making? Is there some sort
of Queer Studies major offered?
Faculty Issues—Are faculty trained in handling GLBT issues in and out
of class? Are there domestic partner benefits for GLBT faculty
Student Organizations—GLBT issues need to be considered, and addressed
as needed within all student organization. Furthermore, there should be
student organization devoted especially to GLBT issues on campus.
Religious Affiliation—Very importantly, when a college is religiously
affiliated, the religious community must recognize its power to sway
public opinion on GLBT acceptance.
To give us an idea of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
community at St. Olaf, we conducted sixteen 30-45 minute interviews
with fifteen students and one faculty member. To find people to
interview we put up flyers around campus explaining our project, with
the hopes of receiving a few phone calls or emails from interested
students/faculty. We based our interviews off of a nineteen-question
survey we put together. The survey included question topics ranging
everywhere from the homosexual dating scene at St. Olaf to the support
systems available to GLBT students. The students ranged from
first-years to seniors, with of a variety of majors, experiences, and
sexual preferences. Since much of what we asked and discussed in the
interviews is considered very sensitive and personal, we designed our
study to minimize risk for all subjects. We conducted our interviews in
private study rooms within the St. Olaf Rolvaag Library. No real names
or other identifying information will be included in this study. In
order to guarantee anonymity of names, we asked subjects to give us
oral consent to participate in the study. The interviewees read a
project information sheet before the interview addressing all of these
concerns. It was also made clear in the project information sheet that
the subjects could terminate the interview at any time if they felt
uncomfortable or they simply didn’t want to answer a question or
continue with the interview.
As mentioned in the abstract, results were extremely
varied. There were patterns, however, found among groups of the same
age, or with other similar characteristics.
Overall, we interviewed 7 gay males, 3 lesbian
women, 5 bisexual women, and one straight male professor whose gay son
graduated from St. Olaf in 1992. Results will be discussed in the order
of questions asked.
Self Identification: “Coming Out”
Most subjects came-out between 7th and 12th grade, although many
acknowledged having feelings or suspicions earlier in life. This is
very typical, according to the accounts we read in Howard and Stevens.
The high school years are a period of self-awakening for everyone and
sexual exploration is common. Unfortunately, the high school
environment is not always the most welcoming. Some interviewees
experienced some sort of personal struggle:
“I figured it out when I was 16. I always felt like I was different
than everyone else and I didn’t know why. First they said I was gifted
in school, but I said ‘nope I’m not different because I’m gifted’. When
I was 16 I noticed that I was attracted to girls and I labeled myself a
lesbian. That explained all of my problems.” (Elizabeth)
Others felt they had always known their sexuality:
“I’ve always known. It was never a tough experience for me. When I
learned what the words were, I said ‘well, that’s me’.” (Travis)
Coming-out accounts often had a similar pattern of confiding to a peer
first before facing parents or the general public. This is a way of
“testing the waters” to see who is a safe listener:
“First I came out to a random person on AIM, because I needed to come
out to a stranger before I came out to someone who mattered to me. Then
I came out to a couple friends at school, my Catholic high school. My
parents are Baptist fundamentalists, they cried a lot. They wanted to
send me to reorientation therapy, and all that. My Mom’s brother is
gay, and they have accepted it now.” (Peter)
“I came out my freshman year of high school. At the time I had a
girlfriend so I came out to her and to other friends. My mother had a
lot of struggles because she thought that reflected onto her.”
“I knew I was gay when I was masturbating to a porn the summer after
freshman year [of high school]. I was watching man and a woman have sex
and I realized I was more turned on to the pictures of the man. I told
a friend on her birthday. I told her over an email. The beginning ones
were all like that; ‘ never be in person’. After a while it became
common knowledge. I called parents one day because another guy at
school was also gay and we were going to come out to the whole school.
My parents were furious when I came out at school with another student.
After a while my family is really supportive.” (Jack)
Other interviewees experienced coming-out with no repercussions or
“I came out in 9th grade. I was assigned in speech class to give a
speech on something that has affected my life profoundly. I decided to
come out to the entire class. It seemed like the easiest way to set
things straight and it was fine.” (Travis)
“My parents are ridiculously liberal, so they were okay with it.” (Lara)
One student had a particularly beautiful coming-out story:
“My parents got divorced and my mother decided she was gay. She fell in
love with a woman she knew in middle school, high school and college. I
decided that seeing the relationship my parents had, I was turned off
by guys. I thought ‘Look at my mom, she’s with a woman and they can
have a fantastic relationship and it can be healthy.’ Three months
after my parents came out to me, I came out to them.” (Melissa)
Most interviewees agreed with the idea that many GLBT students are
afraid to come out at St. Olaf. Reasons given usually had to do with
the conservative nature of the school, the religious affiliation, and a
student body that is generally wary of alternative lifestyles.
“I have a number of friends who have really struggled with coming out
during their time at St. Olaf. It’s not the best atmosphere to come out
“It is a Christian college and it carries the stigma that you get with
Christianity that they aren’t accepting to homosexuals. I don’t think
that’s true of the college but people carry that stereotype.”
The general consensus was that there are more “out” gay men than
lesbians at St. Olaf. However, a few interviewees thought that lesbians
just go unnoticed, for various reasons:
“Lesbians are less vocal and less visually evident.” (Peter).
“St. Olaf is male dominant as far as coming out. There are so many
social attributes attributed to gay men, so it’s easier to point to
“There are more gay men out than lesbians. Why? Because being a girl
and being a homosexual puts them in an isolation category. Men wear the
clothes and have girlfriends and they hang out together. Straight girls
and gay men get along really well, whereas straight men and gay women
don’t have that sort of connection”. (Elizabeth)
One student had a different take on the number of lesbians to gay men.
She explained why people only think that there are more lesbians at St.
“Obviously there are more girls on campus, but it’s probably even. It’s
always easier for girls to be out anywhere you go. That’s why people
get the impression that there are more lesbians here.” (Kara)
Another student derived her answer from stereotypes:
“The stereotype is that St. Olaf is where all of the gay men are. It’s
been implied to me that that’s because St. Olaf has a strong music
program. The whole artsy, gay male thing…there is more of a gay male
group here.” (Allison)
There was an array of answers to this question. It appeared to be a
hard question to answer for the subjects, because they seemed to only
have information pertaining to their own gender. The patterns of queer
theory can be seen in this section as far as the fluidity of gender it
provides for. The gender a person chooses to identify with greatly
influences their life experience. For the most part, interviewees
talked about the differences in the level of difficulty to be out for
lesbians and gay men:
“There are different stereotypes that go on with each. That’s how they
differ. Being a gay man is almost easier than being a lesbian. People
aren’t as shocked about it.” (Travis)
“The experience of being a lesbian in comparison to gay men is a very
different thing. Going back as far as the outbreak of the AIDS
epidemic, where men were forced to come out, so we created an
environment where it was safer for men to come out. It was part of the
healing process. Lesbian women were less affected by that, so they
weren’t given that cultural permission to come out and heal. I think
there are still echoes of that. So I think the lesbian community is
less noticeable.” (Krista)
Many interviewees thought it was easier for women than for men to be
“It’s easier for girls. It’s not as important for women to be feminine
as it is for guys to be masculine. There aren’t the same repercussions
if you’re not. There is also less social pressure for women to be out.”
“It is much easier for women to stay under the wire, under the radar.
It’s easier for women to have relationships with their friends. For men
it seems like a much more public kind of thing if they’re coming out or
dating someone. The gossip factor is much higher for men.” (Allison)
Another person thought that it is often times easiest for bisexual
students on campus:
“For bisexuals it is easy because they can hide behind a straight
Comfort and Acceptance
Although many interviewees said that they do not go around telling
everyone or shouting about it, and that they choose who they talk about
it with selectively, most subjects described being pretty comfortable
and open about their sexualities:
“I’m 80% comfortable. Some people I don’t talk about it with. If it
comes up in conversation I’ll talk about it but I won’t bring it up in
conversation of political nature. When talking about first dates I use
what is called neutral pronouns. Well, you know, this person asked me
out and we went on a date they…” (Elizabeth)
“I’m comfortable enough that if anyone ever asked me I would answer
them. But I won’t just bring it up in class.” (Christine)
“I’m open. If it comes up I’ll talk about it, but I wont just mention
“I feel like I’m comfortable. There isn’t anyone I wouldn’t tell. I’m
guarded about the situations in which I bring it up. I wouldn’t just
bring it up, in order to protect the community rather than myself.”
“As open as I’d want to be. Not going to shout about it… Never gotten a
negative reaction.” (Jack)
“Very comfortable. Don’t go around with a big sign, but if someone asks
me, if someone’s confused, then I will tell them that I am gay.”
Some subjects talked about being comfortable only because that’s the
way they’ve always felt:
“I’m really comfortable with it but I always have been. I think it
would be different if I hadn’t been out previously. I was surprised
about that fact that this place is less accepting than where I grew
“I’m very comfortable with it. It’s just the type of person I am. My
family has been very supportive. Many of my friends were gay and/or had
a lot of experience with the gay community. I think that helped me.”
“Depends on who I’m with. I can tell who’s okay with it by the way they
Only three of the interviewees reported ever feeling threatened at St.
“Freshman year there was a series of chalkings. Very violently anti-gay
chalkings on the sidewalk. After coming out day, where there were stick
figures of people holding hands, overnight people drew bloody knives
and things. It surprised me. It was strange. There was a lot of outcry
about them, which was good. It’s not that all people are anti-gay, it’s
just that people forget that gay people exist.” (Allison)
“During week one I was too scared to tell anyone. Closeted guys have
told me that I am too gay. The closeted guys are mostly sports players
and the masculine stereotype.” (Peter)
“Not physically. I get emotionally threatened, just because of the
struggle of finding the places and finding someone to talk to. Building
friendships can be frustrating.” (Christine)
One student explained the confusion experienced by other students when
her mother and her stepmother dropped her off:
“Being dropped off with both mom and step mom, students were confused
and shocked.” (Melissa)
Several students had never felt threatened at St. Olaf:
“Not because I was gay.” (Jack)
“I’ve never felt threatened here. Mildly uncomfortable maybe.”
None of the subjects has ever experienced harassment at St. Olaf, but
some know other people who have:
“St. Olaf is a really safe place physically and sexually and it would
be rare to experience physical and sexual violence but there is
emotional pressure. I know guys who have been made fun of and called
“Yes. People get things written on their belongings and on their
One student describes harassment by other GLBT students:
“I’ve seen forced outings by other gay people. They feel compelled to
talk about the person behind their back. They think that since they are
happier they are out themselves, helping them come out will be good for
them. If you have had, as a gay person, a smooth transition coming out,
then it is hard to see the danger emotionally, physically, socially of
doing this.” (Allison)
Many interviewees mentioned nonchalant remarks by other students:
“Never any faculty. One time I heard some [students] say, “oh that’s so
gay. You’re a faggot.” That offended me. I left the room. I went back
later and told the liberal people in the room that they should have
said something.” (Melissa)
“Nothing from faculty. Definitely students. The standard stuff. “That
was so gay, he’s such a fag.” I’ve also heard jokes where if a gay
person was telling another gay person it would be okay and funny, but
from others it isn’t the same. People aren’t for the most part actively
“People use the word gay as like, “that’s so gay”. They don’t mean it.
It’s an unconscious move, but it is still offensive. People say that,
“that lifestyle isn’t in accordance with my beliefs, but I’ll let them
be” is what I’ve heard at St. Olaf.” (Elizabeth)
One student mentioned something negative about faculty with regards to
“I’ve heard anti-gay remarks by students. I’ve heard faculty member
sort of blow off issues such as unimportant or irrelevant. Nothing
direct though.” (Christine)
For the most part, subjects had positive things to say about faculty
and administration with regards to the GLBT community at St. Olaf:
“The administration is wonderful. Thomforde is amazing in trying to
move forward in accepting GLBT alumni. The alumni are getting started.”
“The faculty have been really supportive. In talking about getting a
queer studies class, they have been supportive. Nothing but positive
However, there were a few answers that showed otherwise:
“I’ve gotten only the fault of omission. Having them not consider the
issue might be colored differently from a GLBT standpoint. But I’ve
never had anyone give me a worse grade or anything.” (Allison)
“No, I’ve never seen any discrimination against particular people, but
there are subtle things inherent in the curriculum.” (Kara)
We were curious if the dating scene helps GLBTs connect and build
networks. This is another section in which the ideas of queer theory
are evident. Interviewees talked extensively about the problems gender
fluidity creates when looking for someone to date. Lots of people
laughed nervously when this subject came up, and it seems the
homosexual dating scene at St. Olaf is as awkward and uncomfortable as
people perceive the heterosexual dating scene to be:
“It’s the same as the heterosexual dating scene! Not as many prospects,
but since no one dates anyway it doesn’t matter.” (Peter)
“It’s incestuous—everyone has dated everyone else!” (Lara)
“It’s such a small population, a lot of people look to other campuses
for partners.” (Christine’s girlfriend goes to Luther College)
“It’s pretty crummy. I’ve done more dating at Carleton than at St.
Olaf. When I show interest in men, they get confused because they often
assume I’m a lesbian. As for gay men, there’s lots of random hooking
up, two or three weeks at a time. None of the good gay men are out (is
what the gay men say).” (Allison)
We asked for a rough idea of how many GLBT couples and individuals
people knew on campus. As researchers we didn’t really have a good idea
how big our research pool is. The number of individuals students knew
of varied from just a few to 50-60. The “couple count” turned out
consistently low; no one knew more than 3 or 4.
The part of our study we were most interested in was the role the
institution of St. Olaf plays in these students’ lives. This was their
chance to speak openly about frustrations and make suggestion for
change, and many people took the opportunity gladly. Lots of people
thought the St. Olaf administration was doing enough, that now what’s
left is for student perception to change:
“The administration does enough. The student organizations are a
problem. I dropped out of GLOW. We wouldn’t get anything done; we just
sat around. The administration is doing a wonderful job.”
“St. Olaf has really done all it can regarding policies. The rest has
to come from the actual student body.” (Lara)
Others did recognize a deficiency in St. Olaf’s provisions for this
“Not at all. GLOW is inadequate; it doesn’t provide enough
socialization. President’s Ball and the ballroom dance class both
enforce traditional gender roles.” (John)
“In general, no. GLOW, I am a part of glow. People don’t go to the
meeting unless they are comfortable with their sexuality. For people
who are just coming out, there isn’t much support at all.” (Melissa)
“Resources exist, but not enough support. There are student
organizations and library materials, but no real safe space.”
Whether or not they saw problems with the current situation, nearly all
interviewees had thoughts and suggestions for change. This was the most
richly varied and interesting part of our interviews. If the reader
gets anything out of this study, we hope it is ideas for what they can
do to help St. Olaf change in a positive way to better accommodate the
growing GLBT community.
Some suggestions came regarding academic offerings:
“Some homosexual studies programs needed (a GLBT concentration exists
at U of M now). Offer more classes! At least this would acknowledge the
population exists. AND give them an honor house.” (John)
“ARMS major and classes should include GLBT issues.” (Christine)
Other students recognized the weaknesses of GLOW and ways to better
empower the student organization:
“At an administration level I would like to see something like the
center they have at Carleton. I’ve seen it do a lot of positive things
for students. I haven’t been satisfied with GLOW. But it’s a student
run organization. Some professional adviser to help the students who
run these organizations would be helpful. Students don’t have those
kind of skills.” (Allison)
“I think that a lot of what would help the gay community has to come
from students because it is a social thing. For the administration,
comparing it to Carleton, their GLBT organizations (several) get a
house, an office suite, a library. GLOW doesn’t get money enough from
the school. I wouldn’t ask for it, but the point is that a lot of
[other college] administrations do something special for GLBT
organizations and St. Olaf doesn’t really do that.” (Kara)
“There needs to be a paid faculty position as an advisor for those
struggling and for GLOW. GLOW has a 4-year turnover, this way it
wouldn’t have to keep starting over. It also needs an endowment and
could even give a scholarship. I’ve thought about there being a gender
and sexuality center, a queer house, and a faculty intern position.
GLOW is the wrong place to go for those closeted and dealing with
angst. Carleton has many more resources than us. Things are going
slowly, but I think we’re on the right path.” (Dorian)
Finally, several students had ideas that went beyond academic offerings
“At the beginning of the year JC’s should bring it up; don’t assume
that no one in your corridor is gay.” (Andrew)
“[The school] should start a conversation. People should talk about it.
There is a lot of fear and many people not okay with it, fear of
harassment and fear of people not liking you, thinking you’re awful and
wrong. Many people think gay marriage is wrong here. More things like
pride week would be good. Someone should talk in chapel about this
because the people that go to chapel are some of the most conservative
and most against [gay marriage].” (Melissa)
Summary and Conclusions
Our findings show that for the most part sexuality is something that
GLBT think about often during the course of their lives at a place like
St. Olaf College. Like any young adult, these students adhere closely
to the idea of stigmatization—they pick and choose who gets to see
their “real” self. The fear of being judged harshly is even more
present for GLBT students than for heterosexual students just worried
about wearing the right clothes and looking the right way. These
students have all had, be it tiny or large, some negative experience
regarding their sexuality at some point. This is due to the lingering
aspects of discrimination that still remain in American society, but
they do not have to remain at St. Olaf, a place that considers itself
so progressive and open-minded. This brings us to the final, most
important part of this study—what can St. Olaf do better?
Suggestions for Change
We have all but eliminated the social acceptableness of racial and
ethnic slurs, but some people don’t yet think twice about labeling
something “gay” when they mean “stupid.” To change this situation means
changing mindsets and preconceptions of the entire student body. This
could be accomplished through more awareness programs such as seminars,
workshops, chapel talks, and on-campus displays that would raise
general consciousness about the issues facing the GLBT population. To
provide for such programs, however, would require change higher up on
the administration ladder.
GLOW would benefit from more funding and a permanent adult leader. Due
to the nature of GLOW as a student organization, every four years the
group is dealing with a whole new group of members, leaders, and
project ideas. A paid faculty position, even perhaps an intern
position, would help the group continue to move forward and lose less
momentum to the yearly personnel changeover. GLOW would also benefit
from representation in the honor house system. Ideally there would be a
GLOW house (co-ed, similar to the Diversity Awareness house) but if
this cannot be arranged the Diversity Awareness house should include
more GLBT issues in its agenda (for the past two years the DA house
project has focused primarily on racial issues, and would be better
named the Racial Diversity house).
A particularly glaring deficit is the lack of any GLBT representation
among the major and concentration offerings of the college. There is no
provision in the academic departments for any queer studies or gay
history major. Carleton recently added a queer studies concentration,
and it is time for St. Olaf to do at least the same. The closest we
have to this is the ARMS (American Racial and Multicultural Studies),
and as one student pointed out, this program should be revised to
include a section on sexual minorities. Being devoted to the liberal
arts, St. Olaf has so many course offerings like Sociology of Dying,
Death and Bereavement; The Hero and the Trickster in Post-Colonial
Literature; The Arts of the African Diaspora; and Food, Work and
Culture, but no single course on gay history, culture, or the gay
rights movement. It seems that to add this course would be a simple
Our interviewees seemed optimistic that this college campus is on the
right path towards complete acceptance for GLBT students…but they are
being awfully patient about it. Hopefully the day will come when we
will look back on our era of discrimination against GLBT people with
the same shame with which we view the fight for civil rights, the times
of female subordination, and the history of anti-Semitism. Only then
can we truthfully claim to be an “inclusive community that invites,
welcomes, and affirms diversity as an essential component of a quality
liberal arts education.” (www.stolaf.edu/community)
Council on Church in the United States of America. 1970. Task Force
Sexuality and the Human Community. Philadelphia, PA: Office of the
GeneralAssembly of the United Presbyterian Church.
Evans, Nancy J. and Vernon A. Wall. 1991. Beyond Tolerance: Gays,
Bisexuals on Campus. Lanham, MD: American College Personnel Association.
Howard, Kim and Annie Stevens. 2000. Out and About Campus. Los Angeles,
Lewin, Ellen and William L. Leap. 2002. Out in Theory; The Emergence of
Gay Anthropology. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Ritzer, George and Douglas J. Goodman. 2004. Sociological Theory, 6th
ed. New York:
Sanlo, Ronni L. 1998. Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
Students : A Handbook for Faculty and Administrators. Westport, CT:
Wall, Vernon A. And Nancy J. Evans. 2000. Toward Acceptance; Sexual
Issues on Campus. Lanham, MD: American College Personnel Association.
Warbeck, Karen M. 1991. Coming Out of the Classroom Closet; Gay and
Students, Teachers, and Curricula. New York: Haworth Press.
Appendix A: Recruitment Flyer
What is the GLBT experience at St. Olaf College?
This ethnographic study is designed to assess the challenges of being
homosexual at St. Olaf, and whether the school is doing enough to help.
We need you! If you can give us any sort of insight on this topic,
please let us interview you. Your participation will be completely
This study is a project for Soc/Anthro 373, Ethnographic Research
Appendix B: Informed Consent Form
As the researcher, I affirm that the interviewee has read and
understood the information on the project information sheet and has
given informed consent to be interviewed for this project.
Appendix C: Interview Script
Thank for coming today. [Introductions, names…]. Before we begin we’d
like to have you read this page so you are adequately informed in order
to consent to this study.
[Supply consent form, obtain consent]
Thanks so much for your help! Ok, let’s get started.
First, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Probe: age, year, major?
Great, now we’d like to get right to the study topic. It would be most
helpful to us if you can explain your answers to questions and let us
know anything you feel comfortable telling us that you think will be
useful to this study.
Can you tell us what sexuality best describes you?
When did you figure this out?
(If gay) When did you “come out”? Can you describe how that was for you?
Do you feel that there are many GLBT students afraid to “come out”? Why
do you think this is?
How do you perceive the ratio of lesbians to gay men at St. Olaf? Why
How do you think the experiences of lesbians and gay men differ here?
Now we’d like to know a little bit about how your sexuality affects
your experience at St. Olaf and your perceptions of the GLBT experience
at St. Olaf. Please remember that nothing you say will be attributed to
How comfortable are you being open about your sexuality at St. Olaf?
Have you ever felt threatened (physically, emotionally, academically)
at St. Olaf because of your sexual preference?
Have you or anyone you know experienced harassment because of their
Have you ever heard any anti-gay remarks by fellow students or faculty
Have you ever felt or seen any discrimination by faculty or
Dating at St. Olaf
How would you rate the homosexual dating scene at St. Olaf? How would
you say it compares to your perceptions of the heterosexual dating
Do you know many gay couples on campus? Do you know many GLBT students
or faculty on campus?
Does your sexuality affect the way you do your job?
Do you know of any closeted or openly GLBT faculty members? [No names
please, but how did you find out this information?] How does it affect
your view of them as faculty?
Does your sexuality affect your interactions with students or fellow
Have you ever felt your own or anyone else’s job security threatened
because of sexual orientation?
How aware are you of what homosexual students experience at St. Olaf?
Sources of support
Do you feel like St. Olaf has enough support for GLBT students on
What support systems are you familiar with? Do any others exist that
you don’t necessarily utilize?
Do you feel you have a voice in decisions made by the St. Olaf
administration that affect you? [Especially in regards to sexual
Do you have any GLBT or heterosexual faculty role models that are
influential to your perceptions of sexuality and sexual diversity?
[Again, no names, just describe how these people have affected your
What could St. Olaf do to make GLBT students feel more comfortable here?